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Sam and Max Hit the Road

21 Jun

Day of the Tentacle wasn’t the only splendid adventure game which LucasArts released in 1993. Some five months after that classic, just in time for Christmas, they unveiled Sam & Max Hit the Road.

At first glance, the two games may seem disarmingly, even dismayingly similar; Sam and Max is yet another cartoon comedy in an oeuvre fairly bursting with the things. Look a little harder, though, and some pronounced differences in the two games’ personalities quickly start to emerge. Day of the Tentacle is clever and funny in a mildly subversive but family-friendly way, very much of a piece with the old Warner Bros. cartoons its aesthetic presentation so consciously emulates. Sam & Max, however, is something else entirely, more in tune with an early 1990s wave of boundary-pushing prime-time cartoons for an older audience — think The Simpsons and Beavis & Butt-Head — than the Saturday morning reels of yore. Certainly there are no life lessons to be derived herein; steeped in postmodern cynicism, this game has a moral foundation that is, as its principal creator once put, “built on quicksand.” Yet it has a saving grace: it’s really, really funny. If anything, it’s even funnier than Day of the Tentacle, which is quite a high bar to clear. This is a game with some real bite to it — and I’m not just talking about the prominent incisors on Max, the violently unhinged rabbit who so often steals the show.

Max’s partner Sam is a modestly more stable Irish wolfhound in a rumpled three-piece suit who walks and talks like a cross between Joe Friday and Maxwell Smart. Together, the two of them solve crimes in the tradition of hard-bitten detectives like Sam Spade. Or, as Sam the dog prefers to put it, they’re “freelance police,” working “to protect the rights of all those whose rights seem to require protecting at whatever particular time seems appropriate or convenient to all involved parties.” As for Max, he just likes to beat, blow, shoot, and generally eff stuff up.

Sam and Max first made their names as the stars of an indie comic book, and carried a certain indie sensibility with them when they strolled onto our monitor screens. The safe suburban world of gaming had never seen anything quite like this duo — boldly but also smartly written, aggressively confrontational, and absolutely hilarious as they wandered a landscape built out of junk media and decrepit Americana.

This not-so-cuddly duo of anthropomorphized animals was the brainchild of one Steve Purcell, a San Francisco artist who invented them with a little help from his brother while both were still children. When he enrolled at the California College of Arts and Crafts circa 1980, he started drawing them for the student newspaper there. They fell by the wayside, however, when Purcell graduated and started taking work as an independent illustrator wherever he could find it, drawing everything from computer-game boxes to Marvel comics.

While Purcell was making ends meet thusly, a friend of his named Steve Moncuse was enjoying considerable buzz within the San Francisco hipster scene for his self-published series of Fish Police comics, which bore some obvious conceptual similarities to Sam and Max. Eager to add some mammals to his stable of marine investigators, Moncuse convinced Purcell to make a full-fledged Sam & Max comic book for his own Fishwrap Productions. “I had never written, penciled, and inked my own comic book before that,” remembers Purcell — but he was up for the challenge. In 1987, the first issue of Sam & Max: Freelance Police was published, containing two stories in its 32 pages. Over the next six years or so, more showcases for the animal detectives appeared intermittently under a variety of formats and imprints, whenever Purcell could spare enough time from his paying gigs — there was very little money at all in independent comics — to draw them. By 1993, their scattered canon was enough to fill perhaps half a dozen traditional comic books.

Said canon was marked not only by conventional comics storytelling — if anything involving the pair could ever be described as conventional — but also by a number of more interactive “activities” for the reader: Sam and Max paper dolls, puppets, etc., all sketchily described and sketchily implemented in cheap black-and-white newsprint. (The sketchiness of it all was, of course, part of the joke.) There was even a Sam & Max On the Road Official Board Game, a roll-and-move exercise in random happenstance: “Go back 2 spaces for dried-up donuts and soda”; “Kids unconscious from poisoned hamburgers. Zoom 3 spaces past Santa’s village without a tantrum”; “Get gas — lose a turn and don’t touch anything in the rest room.”

In the meanwhile, Steve Purcell the respectable above-ground commercial artist found himself working for none other than LucasArts. Shortly after the publication of the first Sam & Max comic, he was hired by them to illustrate what he intriguingly describes as “a role-playing game with cat-head babes.” When that project rather unsurprisingly got cancelled, he was laid off, but was soon brought back on again to draw the box art for the second SCUMM adventure game, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. That work won him a full-time job, upon which there followed much more in-game and box art for more adventures: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Loom, the first two Monkey Island games.

Steve Purcell circa 1988.

Purcell didn’t come to LucasArts alone: a certain dog and rabbit accompanied him to his new job. The place was filled with bright young men, with young men’s taste for humor that might not always pass muster with the censors in the executive suites. (For proof, one need only look to the acronyms associated with key components of the SCUMM engine, which were tortured into conformance with various forms of bodily fluid: SPIT, FLEM, BYLE, MMUCUS.) Sam and Max fit right into this milieu. Indeed, the pair began to infiltrate LucasArts’s computers almost immediately, as, bowing to his colleagues’ demands, Purcell conjured up some graphics of them for everyone to play around with. Already by the time a couple of new hires named Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer were enrolled in the so-called “SCUMM University” in late 1989, Purcell’s creations had become fixtures of office life. Schafer:

Every afternoon Ron [Gilbert] would come up and tell us how to do one thing, like, “Here’s how you add a room to the game” or “Here’s how you add a character.” We had this Sam & Max art that Steve Purcell had made just for SCUMM U, which was Sam and Max’s office, which I don’t think ever saw the light of day. It had a few animation states — a staticy television set, rabbit ears made out of a coat hanger that could be in two different positions, and we’d go, “I’m gonna make the static on the TV animate,” and then we’d spend all day doing that, and by the end of it we were pooling in art assets from Indiana Jones, and all the Scummlets started making their own crazy, weird, improvisational SCUMM games set partially in the Sam & Max universe. I had a remote-control car in mine that would drive through a mouse hole in their office and then would come out of a filing cabinet in Nazi Germany…

Except for Nazi Germany, most of these things — including the office, the television with a coat-hanger antenna, and even the mouse hole — would later appear in the official Sam & Max game, albeit with dramatically upgraded graphics.

But even well before that came to be, Sam and Max were already getting a form of official recognition from LucasArts, one that the people in the executive suites probably weren’t really aware of. The first two Monkey Island games, the first two Indiana Jones games, and Day of the Tentacle all found somewhere to shoehorn in a mention of the LucasArts staff’s favorite comics characters. When in 1990 LucasArts instituted a newsletter for their fans in the tradition of Infocom’s old New Zork Times, they asked Purcell to provide a Sam & Max comic strip for each issue.

Still, there’s a considerable distance between such sly insertions as these and a full-fledged Sam & Max computer game. The latter may well owe its existence to expediency as much as anything else. In 1992, LucasArts’s management wanted a second adventure to join Day of the Tentacle on their release docket for 1993, but had yet to approve a project plan for same. As time ran short, Sam and Max had virtually the entire creative staff pulling for them, along with a wealth of rough art and design ideas that had been kicked around through the likes of SCUMM University for years by that point. So, Sam and Max got to make an unlikely transition from indie comics characters to the stars of a very mainstream, very mass-market computer game from The House That Star Wars Built.


Ironically, the Sam & Max game got the green light just as Purcell himself was pulling back a bit from LucasArts. After some three years of full-time employment there, he’d just elected to return to freelancing, sometimes for LucasArts but sometimes for others. Thus the official designers for the game became a heretofore unheralded pair named Sean Clark and Mike Stemmle, who had worked as programmers on earlier SCUMM games. One can all too easily imagine such an arrangement going horribly wrong, missing the unique tone of the comics entirely. But thankfully, Clark and Stemmle proved to have a gift of their own for that trademark Sam & Max form of comedic mayhem, while Purcell himself and his soon-to-be wife Collette Michaud — another LucasArts artist, whom he had met on the job — made time to write or at least to edit most of the dialog.

Another obvious risk to the project was that of bowdlerization by nervous managers and marketers. Here again, though, it got lucky. Purcell:

I think the game is really close to the spirit of the comics. There’s violence, mild cursing, and a commendable lack of respect for authority, not to mention circus freaks and yetis. There’s less gunplay in the game simply because a gun is a terrible object to give someone to use in an adventure game unless you carefully guide the player to use it in a more interesting way. I don’t remember anything getting cut by management. Much to their credit, I think they trusted our judgment.

The theme of the game whose full title became Sam & Max Hit the Road was drawn from that old joke of a board game, as well as from kitschy roadside America more generally. By 1993, the cozy tradition of the cross-country family road trip — Route 66 and all that jazz — was starting to feel a little shabby in a post-oil embargo, post-interstate highway, postmodern America. Sam & Max steers into that shabbiness with a gonzo sensibility that’s more Hunter S. Thompson than Jack Kerouac; none of that romance-of-the-open-road nonsense for this duo! Instead they take us to pathetic would-be tourist traps like “The World’s Largest Ball of Twine!”, “Gator Golf,” “The Mystery Vortex,” “The Celebrity Vegetable Museum,” and “Frog Rock” (which doesn’t look much like a frog at all). The game tempers any sepia-toned nostalgia it might be tempted to evoke with an awareness that, really, all of this stuff was pretty tacky and stupid even in its heyday. And I haven’t even mentioned the spot-on parody of Graceland — presented here as Bumpusville, home of Conroy Bumpus, singer of the country classic “Let’s Get Drunk and Shoot Things.”

Smuckey’s convenience store, a monument to a homogeneous junk-food culture that stretches from sea to shining sea; there are several Smuckey’s in the game, and they all look exactly the same. “Max, crack open the Tang and those little cereal boxes with the perforated backs. I love that crap!”

And the reason for all this cross-country travel? Well, Sam and Max themselves never seem all that interested in the central mystery of the game, so why should we be? For the record, though, it’s something about a Sasquatch or yeti or something who’s escaped — or been kidnapped — from a carnival show. Jump through enough hoops and you’ll be rewarded with a bizarre denouement involving, as Sam puts it, “the wholesale destruction of the modern symbols of civilization in the western United States. You bet we’re proud!”

Suffice to say that you don’t play this game for the plot; you play it for the humor. A quarter century on from its creation, the latter has lost none of its sharpness. Sam & Max Hits the Road remains a veritable master class in comedy writing, with a sense of effortlessness about it that many another adventure game, huffing and puffing all too visibly in its own desperate efforts to be funny, could stand to learn from. Writing this game wasn’t truly effortless, of course, but rather involved countless hours of careful honing; as any of the great comedians working in any medium will tell you, being funny is first and foremost hard work. Yet the end result ought to feel spontaneous and easy, as it does here. The verbal jokes and visual gags are never belabored, never beat into the ground. On the contrary: they come so thick and fast that they can sometimes be a bit difficult to catch and appreciate. This is one of the few games I can think of that benefit from replaying just in order to savor all of the layers of its writing and presentation.


A Brief, Unsatisfying Interview with Sam and Max

Could you introduce yourselves?

Sam: I’m Sam. He’s Max. He’s a bunny. I’m a dog. We’re dangerous, but we work cheap.

How did you two form the Freelance Police?

Max: It was easy once we filed the monolithic heap o’ documents with the local government. They didn’t even notice that in the paperwork I claimed to be a nine-foot hamster and referred to myself as The Scatman.

Sam: Did you know that anybody can walk into a store and buy a real police badge? It really comes in handy when you want to enter the homes of people you don’t know.

What’s the toughest case you’ve ever cracked?

Sam: I guess the toughest case we cracked was when I lost the car keys and went as far as to have Max’s stomach pumped before I realized they fell down behind the radiator.

What special skills do each of you bring to the job?

Sam: Well, I have the ability to drive a car, enjoy a home-cooked meal, and get lost in a good book simultaneously.

Max: I can open a can of tuna fish with my own face.



In the best spirit of postmodern comedy, Sam and Max unleash a constant stream of blatant or subtle meta-textual commentary. When other games try to do this sort of thing, they tend to overplay their hand, with the result coming off as nervous tics on the part of creators who lack confidence in the integrity of their own fictions. Sam & Max Hit the Road, however, knows its fiction has no integrity, and revels in it. Likewise, it knows that we know how the highly artificial guide rails of genre-based storytelling run, and acknowledges that shared understanding. The selection of media tropes the game riffs off of is deep and broad, placing high and low culture on an equal footing, as any good postmodernist should. (“Every time I catch enough fish to fill a net, the helicopter swoops down and carries the fish to the Ball of Twine diner,” says one poor Sisyphus of a fisherman. “It’s like being stuck in a Norman Mailer novel.”)

But the greatest comedy goldmine here is always Max, who’s fun to watch even when he’s not really doing anything. He prowls restlessly about every area you visit, a perpetual live wire who looks likely to do something highly inappropriate and profoundly dangerous at every moment. LucasArts took an interesting approach to controlling the two protagonists. Rather than being able to switch direct control between Sam and Max, as in their previous multi-protagonist games Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle, you ostensibly control Sam alone, but can “use” Max upon things in the world like you might an inventory object. It’s a brilliant choice. Max’s greatest comedic virtue is his sheer unpredictability, and this approach preserves that; even when you’re consciously “using” Max on something, you never know quite what he’s going to do.

Dialog works the same way; instead of presenting you with a cut-and-dried menu of questions or statements to make in conversations, the game lets you choose between the abstract options of a question, an exclamation, or the always worthwhile choice of the complete non sequitur. For “nothing would kill a joke worse than reading it before you hear it,” as Steve Purcell puts it.

In other ways as well, Sam and Max became a field for considerable experimentation with what had been the standard LucasArts adventure interface ever since Maniac Mansion: an interactive picture of your surroundings filling the top three-quarters or so of the screen, a menu of verbs filling the bottom of the screen. Sam and Max‘s design team eliminated the latter entirely for the first time since Loom; instead of clicking a verb on a menu here, you right-click to cycle the mouse cursor through them. Although welcome in the sense that it gave LucasArts’s talented artists more room to paint their scenes, the new approach can be just a little awkward to work with, requiring an awful lot of repetitive clicking even once you’ve managed to cement in your mind what each of the cursor icons actually means.

One can make vaguely similar complaint about other aspects of Sam & Max. Certainly in comparison to Day of the Tentacle, a game which LucasArts polished to a well-nigh unprecedented sheen, Sam & Max can come across as ever so slightly ramshackle. Its scenes are often designed to scroll as the protagonists move across them. This is fair enough in itself, but it’s sometimes difficult to identify what is and isn’t a hard edge, especially in certain scenes where you must click in just the right vertical spot on one edge or the other to progress further to the left or right. This was such a problem for me when I played the game recently that I wound up consulting a walkthrough on a few occasions when I thought I was completely stumped, only to find that I simply hadn’t fully explored a location due to this interface confusion. These sorts of issues — sometimes referred to as “fake difficulty” in that they’re fundamentally external to the world being explored — were admittedly par for the course in the games from LucasArts’s contemporaries. But LucasArts themselves had made their name by rising above them to a perhaps greater extent than they manage here.

A particularly hard-nosed critic might also find reason to complain about some of the individual puzzles. Although the game does stay scrupulously true to the letter of the LucasArts design philosophy of no deaths and no dead ends, quite a few of the puzzles here are so warped that they can really only be solved via the tried-and-true “use everything on everything else” approach. While this feels thoroughly true to the anarchic spirit of the game’s source material, it’s much more debatable in the context of good adventure design in the abstract.

But then again, the whole game is so lively, and so full of funny responses and hilarious Easter eggs, that it’s usually more entertaining than tedious to lawn-mower through its scenes in this way. And there is a smattering of really good set-piece puzzles to enjoy as well. The “Gator Golf” scene, in which Sam gets to play golf on an alligator-infested swamp of a course, is an example of a puzzle that’s both intellectually stimulating and absolutely hilarious, the sort of thing that could only have appeared in Sam & Max Hit the Road. To alleviate the tension when you aren’t sure how to proceed, there’s also a few superfluous action games, like the rather grisly take on Battleship that’s known here as Car Bomb and a concoction known as Highway Surfin’ which combines a speeding automobile, Max on the roof of said automobile, and a bunch of low-hanging road signs. If not exactly good in the way we conventionally define such things, the mini-games are, like just about everything else about Sam & Max Hit the Road, really, really funny.

But the game’s rougher edges perhaps aren’t all down to the gleefully low-rent nature of its source material. Once again, a comparison with Sam & Max‘s immediate predecessor on the LucasArts release docket can be instructive in this context. Superlative though Day of the Tentacle‘s execution was, that game was also at the end of the day a thoroughly safe choice for LucasArts — the sequel to a beloved game, built around a style of cartoon humor with which Middle America was long-acquainted. Sam & Max, on the other hand, was a more dangerous proposition in more than one sense of the word. Even as we laud LucasArts’s management for the real bravery it took to let their creative staff make and release it at all, we can also see signs that they weren’t willing to pour quite the same amount of time and money into such a relatively risky concept. Tellingly, they didn’t pull out all the stops to release a CD-ROM-based “talkie” version of Sam & Max at the same time as the floppy-disk-based version, as they had for Day of the Tentacle. Instead they decided to wait a bit, to make sure there was in fact a market out there worthy of the additional investment.

Some of the first reviews would actually seem to confirm any suspicions LucasArts’s management might have had that Sam & Max could be more of a niche taste than a crowd pleaser. Charles Ardai, writing for Computer Gaming World, found all of the “self-referential jokes, sneering remarks, deadpan derision, sarcasm, and ridicule” — even the “unnerving” jazz-influenced soundtrack — to be decidedly off-putting. “Sarcastic New York intellectuals like [some of] my friends will find its tone wholly agreeable,” he concluded, “but whether it plays in Peoria remains to be seen” — thereby echoing a question that was doubtless much on the mind of some at LucasArts.

But, happily for everyone concerned, Sam & Max didn’t prove the commercial disaster which some of the Nervous Nellies at LucasArts might have feared. Right from the beginning, significant numbers of gamers responded strongly to the same edgy humor that seemed to leave some reviewers a little nonplussed. And, make no mistake, some reviewers loved it as well. Certainly Rick Barba, writing for Electronic Entertainment, loved it unreservedly: “It’s hip, funny, adult, and well-written. It’s what literate adventure gamers have been craving for years.” Interestingly, the early British reviews were much more uniformly positive than the American ones, perhaps reflecting the longstanding British taste for a drier, less literal stripe of humor — or perhaps just reflecting the longstanding British fascination with the weirder aspects of Americana.

With the game’s sales and very positive reception in at least some quarters having sufficiently allayed any doubts at LucasArts, the CD-ROM version appeared about six months after the floppy-based version. It was well worth the wait. The same production team that had made Day of the Tentacle such a lesson to the rest of the industry in how to do a talkie right took charge of Sam & Max as well, with similarly stellar results. Sam and Max themselves were voiced by a pair of cartoon veterans named Bill Farmer and Nick Jameson respectively, both of whom were perfect for their roles. After hearing its stars for the first time, it becomes almost impossible to imagine playing Sam & Max without their voices. And this, of course, is just the reaction a talkie ought to provoke.

Since Sam & Max Hit the Road, the titular pair have continued their exploits in the pages of more comic books, in a brief-lived and sadly bowdlerized television series, and eventually in a string of episodic adventure games from Telltale Games, who positioned themselves as the post-millennial heirs apparent to the LucasArts adventure tradition. Yet I’m not sure whether they’ve ever again been quite as sharp and funny as they were here, in their very first computer game. I can certainly write that, despite the competition from all of these other iterations of what’s developed into a minor media franchise in its own right, the stature of the original Sam & Max computer game has only grown over the years. Today it continues to stand out from the field of its contemporaries as a harbinger of a gaming future that would admit more diverse voices to the dialog, drawing from a more sophisticated palette of non-ludic cultural influences. Most of all, however, it remains what it has always been: one of the funniest games ever made. What better reason could you need to play it?

(Sources: the omnibus comic Sam & Max Surfin’ the Highway by Steve Purcell; Computer Gaming World of April 1991, January 1992, August 1993, and February 1994; Retro Gamer 22, 28, 70, 110, and 116; CD-ROM Today of August/September 1994; Edge of February 1994; Electronic Entertainment of March 1994; Game Developer of March 2006; LucasArts’s newsletter The Adventurer of Fall 1990, Spring 1991, Fall 1991, Spring 1992, Fall 1992, Spring 1993, and Winter 1994. Also “The History of Sam & Max,” as presented on the old Telltale Games home page.

Sam & Max Hit the Road is available for purchase from GOG.com and other digital storefronts.)

 

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41 Responses to Sam and Max Hit the Road

  1. Infinitron

    June 21, 2019 at 4:11 pm

    Telltale Games, who have positioned themselves

    I take it you wrote the draft for this a while ago!

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      June 21, 2019 at 9:22 pm

      Ah, yes, they just recently went belly-up, didn’t they? I was sorry to hear all the sorry tales that out of the place at the end. I still remember the excitement when they started up.

       
  2. TT

    June 21, 2019 at 4:37 pm

    I rec’d a bunch of promotional material from Steve Purcell for this game when I was working for The Adventure Company, we published Sam and Max Season One with Tell Tale around 2006. Some art books and animation cells etc

    This property has some nostalgic value for me for sure.

    Purcell was militant about the advertising I designed for the game re maintaining artistic consistency, he seemed like a nice guy though.

     
  3. Schnuckelpü

    June 21, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    > A remastered version of Sam & Max Hit the Road is available for purchase from GOG.com and other digital storefronts.)

    As far as I know, there is no remastered version of this game. The GOG version you linked consists of the original game files bundled with ScummVM.

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      June 21, 2019 at 9:24 pm

      Fair enough. Still playing from my original CD, personally, one of those have followed me to Europe and through about seven moves in the past ten or eleven years.

       
  4. Aula

    June 21, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    “That worked won him”

    should be “work”

    “With the games’ sales”

    should be “game’s”

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      June 21, 2019 at 9:25 pm

      Thanks!

       
  5. Steven Marsh

    June 21, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    There’s so much I love about the humor of this game and can quote verbatim decades later. (“Mind if I drive?” “Not if you don’t mind me clawing at the dash and shrieking like a cheerleader.” . . . “BUT WHO’S JOHN MUIR?” . . . “Read my lips: I. CAN’T. PICK. THAT. =UP= [etc.]” . . . “Throw the bomb out the window, Sam! There’s nobody but strangers out there!”)

    As a minor nit, I’m all-but-certain the version on GOG isn’t “Remastered” in any meaningful sense (compared to the remastered version of Day of the Tentacle); I think it’s just the classic version kludged to work on modern machines.

     
    • Pedro Timóteo

      June 21, 2019 at 5:47 pm

      Yeah, it says “This game is powered by ScummVM” at the bottom of the GOG page.

      It does have a few extras over playing the original back then, such as a number of optional video filters, speech and subtitles at the same time (I think the CD-ROM version didn’t have subtitles, though I could be wrong), and a choice of emulated music hardware, but those are basic ScummVM features.

       
  6. Richard Mutt

    June 21, 2019 at 6:09 pm

    Having played the Telltale Sam & Maxes as well as the LucasArts one I can say that I found the former equally as funny and subversive as the original. Specially when it plays with the evolution of the characters throughout the episodes.

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      June 21, 2019 at 9:28 pm

      The voices in the Telltale games always bothered me, perhaps because the original LucasArts voice acting was just *so* perfect. And I do agree with Benjamin…. the writing, while frequently funny and entertaining in its own right, just isn’t honed to quite the same laser edge of comedic perfection. As I remember, though, both the writing and the game design did get better as the series progressed.

       
      • Pedro Timóteo

        June 22, 2019 at 9:21 am

        I guess the first version one hears is always “the one”, isn’t it? :) Since back in the day I only played the floppy version of Hit the Road, and never watched the cartoon until recently, to me Sam *is* David Nowlin, from the Telltale games. I especially love his exclamations (“holy…” or “sweet…”), usually at the end of the phone call with the Commissioner (“Sweet suffering Saint Sebastian on the sousaphone in a short story by Susan Sontag!”). Bill Farmer, on Hit the Road, actually sounds quite similar, IMO, but his voice sounds more nasal, and he (and everyone else) speaks slower, and, I don’t know, doesn’t seem to be having as much fun with the role. But, like I said, that could be simply the fact that I heard Nowlin first (and, indeed, heard him for 3 whole seasons, plus Poker Night 2, before the CD version of Hit the Road.)

         
  7. Benjamin Vigeant

    June 21, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    The Telltale seasons were ok to pretty good – the third season was a real treat – but as much as I enjoyed them, the writing was never as sharp as their Lucasarts forerunner. The episodic format probably harmed that to some extent, who knows how many revisions a gag would go through with the hard deadlines they had.

    That said, it’s unfair to compare the relatively meager resources of the late Telltale to the far more luxe Lucasarts. It’s a real shame we won’t see any future S&M seasons.

     
  8. Thomas

    June 21, 2019 at 9:14 pm

    Smuckey’s is a reference not just to junk food stores in general, but to Stuckey’s, it’s own strange slice of Americana famous for southern candies like divinity and Goo Goo clusters and weird knick knacks. They still exist, at least on the east coast, but they already seemed like a relic of the past when Sam and Max came out.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuckey's

     
    • Andrew McCarthy

      June 22, 2019 at 7:08 am

      And Steve Purcell’s original Sam & Max comics used the real name of Stuckey’s. I guess LucasArts’ legal department prevailed on the game designers to use a parody name.

       
  9. Alice G

    June 21, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    Great stuff. I played Hit the Road for the first time about a year ago, then powered through the entire Telltale series immediately afterwards, and loved every bit of it. I feel like it’s just as well that I didn’t play Hit the Road as a kid, because it’s probably one of those games where I wouldn’t have gotten half the jokes. Then again, there’s nothing quite like revisiting a game from your childhood, realizing which jokes you didn’t get then and do get now, and finding a whole new level of enjoyment in that. :D

    One nitpick: “with one of your options being that aforementioned Max ‘verb'”. Max isn’t a verb, he’s an inventory item.

     
  10. Keith Palmer

    June 22, 2019 at 12:23 am

    Sam and Max is another adventure game I acquired an old legitimate copy of a while ago and could easily play in SCUMMVM, but unfortunately never quite get around to. Still, I do have a copy of the graphic novel collection of the original comics mentioned in the sources section, and can still dip back into its “sketchily” entertaining mayhem ranging as far as the spoof strips from the LucasArts newsletters… (“Max, if I start to freeze, I may have gut you and crawl inside you for warmth.” “Please do!”)

    However, while it’s a minor quibble, I don’t quite recall the term “underground” being often applied to the black-and-white comics of the 1980s for all that there’s doubtless a line of descent between them and the 1960s and 70s works more often called that.

     
    • Steve McCrea

      June 22, 2019 at 4:43 am

      Yes, I’d describe the comics as independent rather than underground.

       
      • Jimmy Maher

        June 22, 2019 at 8:19 am

        Fair enough. Thanks!

         
  11. Hoagie

    June 22, 2019 at 7:54 am

    Electronic Entertainment was an American magazine, not a Britsh one. Yet the British magazines gave the game extremely positive reviews (93% almost everywhere).

    The French localization was excellent.I love how they translated the name of the mountain made out of tyres, “Mount Badrich” (if it’s a pun, I don’t get it), as “Mont Saint-Michelin”, a portmanteau of Mont Saint-Michel and Michelin.

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      June 22, 2019 at 8:18 am

      Thanks!

      And yes, LucasArts was always known for the creative verve and sheer quality of their localizations. It’s really remarkable how the commitment to quality extended all through the organization.

       
      • Hoagie

        June 22, 2019 at 4:26 pm

        LucasArts assumed the French localization of their games themselves until the first Monkey Island. Starting from Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, they were done by the French company Art of Words, who also realized the localization of many Virgin games (Command & Conquer, Kyrandia).
        If I’m not wrong, it was the first CD-ROM game fully localized in French with all voices re-recorded (the French DOTT CD-ROM still had the American voices). Because of the delay between the floppy and CD-ROM versions, the voices of the intro were not performed by the same voice actors (same thing in Germany), but in both cases the voices of both Sam and Max were done by the same actor, Jean-Claude Donda..Sam’s voice is significantly different from his US voice and sounds like the French voice of inspector Columbo.

         
    • Buck

      June 22, 2019 at 11:55 am

      I suspect Badrich is a play on Goodrich, a well known tire company in the US.

       
    • ATMachine

      June 22, 2019 at 12:49 pm

      “Goodrich” is an American maker of automobile tires (tyres). A quick Google reveals they’re now owned by Michelin, funnily enough.

       
  12. Brian Bagnall

    June 22, 2019 at 5:28 pm

    I have to admit, I had layers of contempt for this game when it first came around in 1993. For starters, I had never heard of Sam & Max before, and to my knowledge no one else had either. It seemed like there was no organic fandom or objective critical praise behind this creation by the box artist working for LucasArts. Reading about it in The Adventurer magazine, it seemed more like an artificial corporate push by LucasArts to try to make us care about this thing because they had a game coming out later.

    The other big thing is there were many other adventure games I would have wanted at that point instead of Sam & Max. LucasArts was already coming out with its own Star Wars games in 1993. How about a Star Wars game that let you explore old abandoned Rebel bases, sneak into Imperial strongholds, and visit cantinas across the galaxy? That would have been awesome in 1993 to do with the SCUMM engine.

    Or in a similar vein to Day of the Tentacle, how about a sequel to Zak McKracken? They still had David Fox as far as I can tell. But no, they poured their resources into a supposed comic book that no one had ever heard of.

    As for Sam & Max itself, my comic sensibilities back then were more aligned with Monty Python, Douglas Adams, and clever Airplane/Top Secret visual gags. I was never much for the Three Stooges style of comedy: “If I yell louder does that make it funnier?” Going through university at the time, you can imagine how I reacted to the style of Sam & Max, which seemed like something a 10 year old would come up with (and it turns out I wasn’t wrong with that assessment).

    Eventually in the 2000s I held my nose and played the Sam & Max series on the Wii from Telltale games because there wasn’t much choice for adventure games on that platform, and it was pretty awesome using the Wiimote like a mouse for point and click adventuring. To my surprise they were actually worth playing from start to finish, although they never reached the heights of other LucasArts games. That led me to playing Sam & Max Hit the Road on SCUMMVM for the Wii and, years later, without the context of the early 1990s, it stood on its own merits as its own thing. But still, it seemed like an odd game to make when they had so many better options for SCUMM games in 1993.

     
    • Hoagie

      June 24, 2019 at 9:33 am

      I can relate to that. Without having in mind the relationship between Purcell and LucasArts, when I saw the first preview of S&M in the issue of Joystick magazine that run the laudative review of DOTT (making me wanting eagerly to play it), I was less than impressed. This story of a barefoot detective dog and a rabbit with a unpleasant grin looked like a Humongous child game. I was also very unhappy with the decision to replace the verb bar with an imitation of the Sierra interface. Sure, it’s nice to have full-screen graphics, but the menu bar was a trademark of LucasArts games and it gave you the feeling that you had a lot of ways to interact with the environment.

      I played the game later and almost completely changed my mind.S&M has lots of good things to praise, except an annoying gambling puzzle : the giant magnets behind the mirror at the Mystery Vortex, that you must switch randomly to make a door accessible (you don’t even know which one).It was the first time LucasArts did something like that (there were similar things in the catacombs in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but you weren’t supposed to move them randomly because the solution was in Henry Jones’ diary), and unfortunately it wouldn’t be the last.

       
    • Cliffy

      June 25, 2019 at 3:46 pm

      I knew the comic, but I guess I was lucky to live in the creative mecca of Akron, Ohio.

       
    • Ben Galbraith

      August 27, 2019 at 7:58 am

      Thanks for this comment. I was wondering why I hadn’t played this growing up; I was a LucasArts fan and was aware of it. Your reasoning lit up some old mental pathways and I recall feeling as you did.

      Wonder what it was more specifically that triggered it? Something about the copy in the newsletter or promotions somewhere that perhaps assumed S&M were known and beloved, some misinterpreted sarcasm perhaps…

       
  13. Sig

    June 22, 2019 at 6:29 pm

    This was my favorite of the LucasArts adventure games. I still have my full talkie CD-ROM, and I came across a back cover comic from the newsletter you mentioned among some of my older artifacts in the garage just last week.

    “Either termites are burrowing through my skull, or one of us is ticking.”

     
  14. Michael Davis

    June 23, 2019 at 2:24 am

    “…a menu of verbs filling the bottom of the screen. Sam and Max‘s design team eliminated the latter entirely for the first (and only) time since Loom;”

    What about The Dig in 1995?

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      June 23, 2019 at 2:30 pm

      That was a really confused sentence. Fixed. Thanks!

       
  15. Pedro Timóteo

    June 23, 2019 at 9:29 am

    A few suggestions to any readers interested in Sam & Max, if I may:

    – the Surfin’ the Highway comic book (which includes all S&M comics except the one Purcell drew in the 2000s for Telltale, but it *does* include the color ones from Lucasarts’ newsletter) is available digitally on Comixology. From what I’ve seen, the physical version is out of print, but maybe you can get it second-hand, if you prefer that.

    – the GOG version of Hit the Road (and, I assume, its Steam equivalent) has ScummVM configured for Adlib music, for maximum compatibility (that’s what you hear in the video in this post). You can get better quality music by switching to General MIDI (press F5 inside the game, then select Return to Launcher, and change settings from there). You can use Windows’ default MIDI, but an even better option, IMO, is to select FluidSynth and give the location of a SoundFont file on your disk (I like GeneralUser).

    – the Telltale games are currently still available on Steam (TT games have been disappearing from digital stores — Tales of Monkey Island is gone, for instance –, so I don’t know how long they’ll remain there), and there’s a collection of all three seasons as the “Sam and Max Complete Collection”. Season 1, at least, is not compatible with Windows 10 (you get a blank white screen and have to kill the application in Task Manager) unless you download the TTres patch utility, copy it to each episode’s installation directory, run it there, and select a new resolution (I use 1920×1080, my monitor’s native resolution). As a bonus, you can play the first seasons in 16:9, when they originally supported 4:3 only. :)

     
  16. Sniffnoy

    June 23, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    I have to say, watching that intro clip, the humor is really dulled by the failure of the visuals to match up with the script. Might be less of a problem without the voice-over, IDK.

     
  17. James Turley

    June 24, 2019 at 6:05 am

    > there are several Smuckey’s in the game, and they all look exactly the same

    Not quite! One of my favourite little sight gags is that they all have slightly different stuff on the forecourt – like the one in the South has a hideous sculpture of a shrimp IIRC. A lovely little nod to to the attempts by giant corporate franchises to look ‘local’ and ‘authentic’ … Whenever I see that kind of thing in a Macdonald’s, I think of Smuckeys

     
    • Aula

      June 24, 2019 at 7:54 am

      Also, each Smuckey’s has a slightly different looking employee, even if they all are obviously clones of Bernard from Day of the Tentacle.

       
  18. anonymous

    June 24, 2019 at 11:29 pm

    “Max’s partner Sam is a modestly more stable Irish wolfhound in a rumpled three-piece suit who walks and talks like a cross between Joe Friday and Maxwell Smart.”

    I thought it was a two-piece suit; hard to tell with that giant necktie.

     
  19. Heike

    July 2, 2019 at 11:32 pm

    A bunch of deplorable white men making misogynistic humor and flirting with Nazism. My, how things haven’t changed in the gaming industry. If there’s a table with a Nazi and ten people talking to him, you got a table with 11 Nazis.

     
    • Carlton Little

      July 3, 2019 at 7:02 pm

      Erm, this comment seems misplaced. Are you thinking of a different game?

       
  20. Helge Frisenette

    July 17, 2019 at 4:50 am

    The TT games are all of them crummy, mediocre, forgettable excuses for adventure games.

    Mediocrity has no place in something as time consuming and design driven as adventure games.
    There is no fallback to basic tenets and tropes (like shooting is fun in itself).
    The game IS the design. Both assets and gameplay.

    Perhaps they had good intentions when they started out, but it soon turned into turn of the mill, formulaic adventures.

    When you have something as great as Hit the Road. You have to be at least as good.
    TT fell way short.

    All the Infocom and Lucas Film Games/Arts imitators lack something vital:
    The sheer accumulation of exceptional talent and will to use it.

    The only team that has come close enough to criticize is Thimbleweed Park.
    But still there, you can feel the lack of collective taste and knowledge of the old
    companies.
    It is the only really good adventure to come out in the last twenty five years though.

     

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